The Modern-Day Diotrephes

Diotrephes! As Judas brings to our minds a picture of betrayal, and as Jezebel brings to our minds the worst in female unpleasantness and ungodliness, so the name of this man brings to our minds a pride and arrogance that should never be in God's kingdom. We find this record of the man:

I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteththem out of the church (III John 9-10). 

Our purpose now is to examine that passage, and to note the qualitiesabout this prideful man, and then to note how these same characteristicscan be found in the church today. The purpose is that all of us might be thus warned, and then let each and every one keep himself pure (I Timothy 5:22).

The behavior of a Diotrephes is (1) First, in ATTITUDE. Note that John states that he loved the preeminence. Jesus is to be the preeminentone (Colossians 1:18), and one has a real character flaw if he desires a higher place than God gave him. Love of preeminence is seen in thebehavior of the hypocrites in Judiasm (Matthew 6:1-18). It is animproper motive for one desiring any work in the church, and is contraryto the Will of God in any event. Diotrephes first had a problem with humility.

(2) Then, IMPROPER USE OF THE TONGUE. John states that Diotrephes was “prating against us.” That is, overflowing with talk, and the apostle states, “malicious words” at that! The arrogance of man is seen in his speaking against the apostles and those in company with the apostles. The greater portion of the inspired New Testament message is borne to us through the work of the apostles. To “receive them” is to receive the Christ (Matthew 10:40). Their words were the words of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:13). It is a lack-of-humility and an arrogance “gone to seed” when anyone becomes so big that they stand against inspired apostles!

(3) Further, this man stands TO FORBID OTHERS IN RIGHT DOING. John states that he would not receive the brethren, but forbad those who were doing so! His is a voice and an “authority” in the kingdom that God has given to none! Some have speculated that Diotrephes was an elder in the church, that we cannot say, but no matter, for his behavior was sinful and all the more repugnant if he had entered into the leadership. Anyone in the kingdom, regardless of their particular work, is first of all God’s SERVANT, and has been shown by the Lord that service to others is true greatness (Matthew 20:26).

(4) The last picture of Diotrephes is that of CASTING MEN OUT OF THE CHURCH! A standing against the apostles, and those who would fellowship the apostles, so as to bar acceptance in the kingdom to those who dared oppose him. The Lord adds to the church (Acts 2:47), and it is not the function of any of us to “cast men out.” Men may, due to persistence in impenitent sinfulness, be disfellowshiped, but their sins have removed them from fellowship. They were not “cast out”at the whim and fancy of some arrogant church “leader.”

It is significant that the record of Diotrephes follows the plea by John that we all should be “helpers to the truth” (v. 8). Helpers, not hinderers; helpers, not stumbling blocks. Diotrephes was working contrary to Truth, and therefore against the Truth. We note also that the record of Diotrephes is followed by the admonition to follow the good, and not the evil (v. 11). Diotrephes needed that advice, just as he needed to follow the example of Demetrius (v. 12), who seemed to be his opposite in terms of life and character.

We can avoid having modern-day Diotrephes’ among us when we all remember that: (1) Greatness in God’s sight is in humility, (2) that we, as servants, must always be open to the apostolic message, (3) that preeminence is given to the Christ, (4) that our influence on others should be to lead them toward spirituality, (5) and that none of us hasauthority to cast men from the kingdom. An elder who would be a Diotrephes is unworthy of the office. A man desiring to be an elder who longs for preeminence is unqualified for the office. A person not an elder should not be allowed by those of us in the kingdom ever to achieve the preeminence Diotrephes had! Let us, in looking into III John, seek to be a modern-day Demetrius rather than a modern-day Diotrephes!

Bill Jackson